Education

University of Northern Iowa nets $10M gift

Donation helps campus cope with tightening budgets

(File photo) A car drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa in this 2011 photo. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
(File photo) A car drives through the gateway of the University of Northern Iowa in this 2011 photo. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — Iowa universities are increasingly more reliant on philanthropy and collaboration than waning state funding and enrollment growth to meet higher education financial headwinds, and one that especially faces challenges — the University of Northern Iowa — announced Thursday a re-envisioned path forward that includes a $10 million gift.

David Takes, a UNI alumnus and current member and past chair of the UNI Foundation’s Board of Trustees, along with his wife, Karen Takes, are giving $10 million for a variety of UNI programs and projects, according to UNI President Mark Nook.

A chunk will be invested in a Takes Endowment, established in 2015 to support UNI business students interested in gaining international experiences and cultural intelligence. The gift also will support a UNI Mascot Outreach Endowment Fund, which supports the university’s mascots and those students who lead the mascot program.

Future capital projects also will benefit from the donation, including potential work on the UNI Campanile, Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center, the Industrial Technology Center and UNI-Dome.

Nook called those potential projects “critical to UNI,” which has been ramping up recruitment efforts in the face of dropping enrollment and increased competition with other institutions for high school graduates, which are projected to decrease in number locally and nationally.

“Knowing we have the support to explore projects that are central to UNI’s identity, Panther Athletics and the cultural vitality of the Cedar Valley and State of Iowa gives us momentum as we think about what our campus can look like for the future,” Nook said in a statement.

David Takes is president and chief executive of Doerfer Companies, a large-scale manufacturer.

Takes said he’s excited about UNI’s future — even as it, like its regent peers, navigate a shifting higher education landscape.

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“For people who maybe haven’t been to UNI in the recent past, take time just to re-educate yourself about what is currently going on here,” Takes said in a statement. “When you do, be prepared to be impressed.”

UNI, however, this fall experienced a historic 715-student drop in enrollment — among its largest-ever that followed a 695-student drop last year. That dinged its tuition revenue, which the Board of Regents this fall agreed to freeze in hopes of improving UNI’s ability to compete.

Although UNI has seen two years of increased support from the Iowa Legislature, the public universities have seen a broader proportional decline in state support over the years — forcing all three to scramble for other revenue sources and partnerships.

Along those lines, UNI last week announced a new partnership with the Des Moines Area Community College and China’s Shanghai University of Engineering and Science.

The DMACC collaboration gives Des Moines-based students a “streamlined” path to a four-year degree at UNI — with students completing their first two years at DMACC and their second two years through UNI on the DMACC Urban Campus.

The program — resulting from a 20-year agreement that could funnel many of DMACC’s 5,000 students to UNI — will begin next fall. Those graduating from the new program will earn bachelor of liberal studies degrees. Courses initially will be offered online, with staff present for support.

UNI will pay DMACC $500,000 annually for the first five years for a total $2.5 million for classroom space and offices.

On Thursday, Nook emphasized in speaking with regents meeting in Cedar Falls that DMACC’s urban campus is the first public majority-minority college campus in Iowa — with 52 percent being students of color — hitting one of UNI’s key metrics of increasing its minority student population.

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UNI currently reports about 11 percent of its students are racial or ethnic minorities, and Nook said his campus needs to do better.

UNI’s other new partnership, with Shanghai University, could also help in that regard and in boosting international enrollment, which this year plummeted across the regent campuses by a combined 15 percent — largely due to a 22 percent decline in students from China.

Since 2015, enrollment from China has dropped 44 percent across the regent campuses, with notable declines among both undergraduate and graduate students.

UNI’s new program with Shanghai lets participating students spend the first two years at their home institution and the second two years abroad at the partner university.

The program lets students gain international experience at a lower price, according to UNI, and it benefits faculty and staff — in that at least eight UNI business faculty annually will travel to Shanghai.

UNI Business Dean Leslie Wilson in a statement stressed a globally-aware workforce is especially important for Iowa, which exports more than $1 billion in food, industrial machinery, vehicles and parts.

“For the economy of Iowa to be successful, to maintain and increase its exports, it must be globally competitive,” Wilson said in a statement. “That requires a workforce that can manage successfully in culturally diverse work environments and understand the international consumer.”

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